20. April 2023

Live vs. Stream

Diagonal geteiltes Bild: Auf der linken Seite ist ein Konzertsaal mit Musiker:innen abgebildet, auf der rechten ein Konzertsaal, in dem ein Stream projiziert wird.

To investigate whether concert streams engage audiences as much as a live concert, the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and the Kammerphilharmonie Frankfurt launched an experiment in September 2022, juxtaposing a live concert with its own stream. (Photos: MPI for Empirical Aesthetics / F. Bernoully and Kammerphilharmonie Frankfurt / L. Kötters)

Concert streams have gained prominence, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but can they engage audiences as much as a live concert? To get to the bottom of this question, Kammerphilharmonie Frankfurt and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) in Frankfurt am Main launched an experiment in September 2022, juxtaposing a live concert with its own stream. The results now available show that the stream should not be treated as a competitor to the live concert, but as an audiovisual music format in its own right.

The experiment was integrated into the concert series “Let’s Get Lost at Klassik Island,” in which the Kammerphilharmonie transformed public spaces in Frankfurt into concert venues. On the evening of September 11, 2022, the ensemble performed two concerts with identical programs on the Bockenheim campus of Goethe University Frankfurt. The performances—each lasting 60 minutes—included works by George Gershwin and Florence Price. They took place in the Festsaal of the Studierendenhaus and were streamed simultaneously to Café KoZ, located in the same building. The audience was invited to move back and forth between the halls during the concerts to experience the qualities of both formats.

A total of 130 people attended the two performances, which were scientifically accompanied by the MPIEA: 111 visitors took part in the pre-survey and 96 in the post-survey via questionnaires. In addition, the researchers conducted a total of 38 in-depth interviews. The data collection was supplemented by video recordings made of the audience during the concerts.

“As expected, the live experience was described as more intense and engaging overall, but especially in terms of the visual and the acoustic, the live stream also made a very good impression on the majority of the concertgoers,” reports Julia Merrill of the MPIEA.

A large part of the audience took advantage of the offer to change rooms—in some cases even several times. Overall, the majority of concertgoers perceived the live hall as the place where the actual action took place and only switched to the streaming hall at certain points. The perceived advantages of the live experience consisted primarily in its eventfulness, its holistic character, and the social involvement, including the interaction with the musicians. Some of the respondents also stated that they were better able to engage with and concentrate on the music in a live context.

In contrast, the stream scored points due to the possibility of seeing the musicians better and in more detail through the camera work, as well as due to the partially better sound mixing. The presence of the visuals, however, also led to a shift in focus from hearing to seeing for some. In terms of experience, several participants felt more relaxed in the streaming situation because the norms of the classical concert were not perceived as so relevant there.

Although almost all preferred the live situation, streaming formats were by no means considered superfluous. Among other things they were considered as a worthwhile alternative in the case of, for example, limited mobility or for cost reasons. For the further artistic exploration of live and broadcast formats, it therefore seems promising not to perceive such formats as competing with each other or as one being a copy of the other. Instead, it is important to be aware of the specific conditions and possibilities in each case and to develop formats complementary to each other as artistic forms in their own right, which make music experienceable in different ways.

Results report at https://kammerphilharmonie-frankfurt.de/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Kammerphilharmonie-Experiment_Ergebnisbericht_030423 (only available in German).